32 Years of TEFL in Spain: Thomas’ Story

I started teaching in Spain 32 years ago. I ended up in Spain by accident and came for a few months adventure with a friend. We started off in Mallorca for a week, then Ibiza for a few weeks and we somehow ended up in Madrid. When I realised my adventure was becoming more long-term, I decided to find work to make some money.

I met a teacher who was teaching English to a teenage girl at her parents’ home. The teacher and asked me if I wanted to take over because she was going back to the UK. I jumped at the chance because, basically, I to pay rent and buy food. I was really worried though because I had never taught before or studied any grammar at school. The only grammar I was taught at school was that a verb was a ‘doing word’ and an adjective was a ‘describing word’, that was it, nothing else!

The next day I had my first lesson with ‘Cristina’ and she wanted to study phonetics with me as she had an exam on that at school in a month. I had never studied phonetics, and to be honest, I didn’t even know what it was! I remember just wanting to head for the door and run away! I needed the work, and so went into survival mode. I managed to pull myself together and I asked her to explain it all to me for that hour, to practise her speaking, while I corrected her mistakes. She didn’t learn much about phonetics from me that day, but she did get plenty of speaking practice and she seemed happy enough. However, I knew we couldn’t just speak in the lessons and I had to help her with her exam on phonetics.

With the money I earned from that lesson, I went out the next day and bought a book on phonetics. I read it through again and again and was somewhat a little more prepared for the next lesson. A few weeks later I bought a grammar book and when I opened it, I remember the feeling of a bomb exploding in my head. It all looked so complicated, and I didn’t have a clue where to start. I could have given up at this point, but I didn’t. I was determined and started reading the grammar book a bit at a time. I took my time, tried to enjoy it and left plenty of time for reflection. It was during my reflection time that I learned the most and also by teaching the grammar too and learning from my mistakes. Preparing lessons plans on areas of grammar I was unsure about was crucial, as I had to study these areas more, and slowly it all came together.

Soon after, Cristina’s friends started calling me for classes, which was great, and I had lots of work. However, I realised that I was just explaining grammar rules and I felt my lessons could have been more dynamic; I was missing something.

Then I heard about TEFL, and immediately did a TEFL course, which opened a whole new world to me; I loved it! Not only did I learn how to prepare interactive lessons, I met other people in a similar situation to myself. So, we started sharing resources, ideas, experiences etc. It was great, and we used to meet up every Friday to help each other.

Soon after, I got a job in an English language academy, and that was a gateway for me to wonderful resources, as they had a teachers’ room stuffed with English learning books including course books, books with photocopiable grammar and phonetic games etc – there was no internet then! That, together with what I had learned on my TEFL course, I could really start getting creative and I felt more confident with my lesson planning.

From then on, I was hooked on teaching and I realised I wanted to be a teacher for the rest of my working years. I still love it! Over the years, I have met so many wonderful and interesting people. On several occasions, I have bumped into students I had years before, and they mentioned that they will always remember the fun and dynamic lessons they had with me and how I really helped them, not only to improve their English, but to also enjoy it too. Comments like this make me realise how important teaching is and the difference we can make to people’s lives.

I have been living in Madrid ever since and it is my home now. I love the lifestyle here, the people, the food and the weather, of course! As for work; I have never had any difficulty finding work and have in fact had to refuse work on many occasions because I simply had too much work. I find, here in Spain, if you do a good job then people will recommend you to others, and that’s the best way to find work here

As I mentioned before, we didn’t have the internet when I first started teaching. However, nowadays, the internet is a treasure trove for teaching resources. I’d like to share some good resources I use when teaching.

Firstly, on your course, you have Tom’s Teaching Tips. This is a range of great activities that can be incorporated into your lesson plans. The are conveniently categorised into skills; speaking, writing, reading & writing. There are also others like, grammar, cultural issues etc.

You can also purchase ready made lesson plans from us.

You can search for almost anything on the internet. For example, if you need a controlled activity for the past simple, just Google it, and you will get lots of ideas. Some sites I find useful are:

ESL Cafe
This is full of useful activities; teaching tips and teachers can share ideas with each other.

ESL Kids Stuff
This is great if you want to teach children and has lots of lesson plans for 3 to 7-year olds.

British Council | Teaching English
This is the British Council’s site and has lesson plans based on levels and on topics too.

If your students are more visual learners, you can use YouTube with them. You can search for any grammar feature and find fun videos to explain and/or practise the grammar.

Here is one I have used for younger learners who are learning the verb to be.

As well, I know many teachers who may revisit a specific grammar feature they are unsure about by using YouTube, and this visual dimension more than often is what is needed for the penny to drop. There are lots of grammar explanations on YouTube from experienced TEFL teachers, for example:

This is a demonstration of ‘reported speech’ which many new teachers find complicated. This is only one video demo of grammar; you can search for others till you find a teacher’s demo you like.

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